Serving as a member of the minority party at the Legislature is frustrating, especially during these polarizing times when loyalty to a political party and preserving a majority seem to be far more important than actual governing for some members.
I have served in the Minnesota Senate for 15 years and I have experienced these political divisions before, but not in the way I’m experiencing them today. During the last six years, while the Republican Party has held the majority in the Senate I have authored several bills to address environmental justice and racial inequality, eliminate academic disparities, and open opportunities for economic development in communities facing deep poverty. Few of these bills have received hearings. Other members who have authored similar legislation addressing climate change and pressing needs impacting minority groups and the poor have experienced the same.
As the Chair of the Senate People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) caucus, I joined civil rights leaders and community activists in demanding police reforms and accountability measures we desperately need to protect Black and Brown lives. We cannot afford to wait any longer; we need to end qualified immunity, strengthen civilian oversight of police, end no-knock warrants, prohibit officers from affiliating with white supremacist organizations, and much more. The Senate Majority has blocked every single one of these efforts.
I’ve leveraged my influence as the Lead in the Environmental and Natural Resources Finance Committee speaking against the construction of Line 3, and I will continue to make the case that Line 3 is a terrible deal for Minnesotans that will cause irreparable harm to the soil, air, water, and violates Treaty rights. I authored four bills to safeguard our environment this session; one to regulate landfills, one to establish an environmental justice board at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), one to provide technical assistance and grants to local and tribal governments, and one to require that proposed copper-sulfide mines in Minnesota prove that they have operated safely elsewhere in the United States for 10 years, and not polluted their local watersheds for 10 years after they ceased mining. Instead of considering my proposals, the Senate Republican majority pushed to weaken the authority of Minnesota’s environmental agencies including the MPCA and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Rolling back environmental protections and weakening the authority of our state’s environmental agencies will compromise the ability of the state to implement measures designed to prevent or reduce the harmful effects of human activities on our natural ecosystems, which is why I opposed them at every turn.
I consider the bills that my colleagues and I introduced to be common sense policy and essential to addressing economic, social and growing political problems. But my Republican colleagues disagree. The political polarization is so significant in the Senate that even in areas where we typically agree, we have not been able to find consensus to support those who are in need. We often come together to support business growth, but not this time. The Republicans have blocked every single effort to provide relief for the small businesses that were impacted by civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd. They have gone as far as amending the State’s Disaster Aid statute to ensure Minneapolis and Saint Paul will be ineligible to receive any assistance.
This deep political polarization requires a new way of building alliances to govern. It requires more engagement from our constituents and a better understanding of the strategies that we must use to influence decision makers. But we can’t give up because the future of our district, our state, our nation, and our planet are at stake. We can’t give up because this is not just about a political fight, it is a fight for our existence. We need to make sure that our community’s voices are heard, our needs are met, our neighborhoods are protected, police brutality is stopped, and environmental destruction is halted.
Only we – together – can accomplish that.